SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

OPINION PIECE

23 November 2017

CHANGE FOR SAKE OF POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY UNDERMINES FOREIGN POLICY

One of the very first acts of the Abbott-Turnbull Government was to bury its predecessor’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. Labor won’t be doing the same with Julie Bishop’s foreign policy white paper.

We recognise that long term planning is in the national interest, and that the nation is better off when changes of government don’t translate into the digital burning of months and years of the public service’s work.

That is why the previous Labor Government conceived the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper – because it was in our national interest to articulate a roadmap in Asia.

Prime Minister Gillard said at the time “I took a clear decision that our nation should actively plan for and shape our national future. Only by doing so can we realise our vision of being a land of increased opportunity, prosperity and fairness.”

This was, of course, in keeping with Labor’s long and substantial history of engagement with Asia – from Evatt and his contribution to Indonesia’s independence; Gough Whitlam, who cemented Australia into Asia, building a base for robust bilateral relations in the region; Hawke-Keating, who orchestrated Australia’s own “pivot to Asia”; through to the Rudd-Gillard Government which prioritised relations with Asia, and sought to advance Australia’s place in Asia through the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.

But the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper did more than just chart a way forward in Asia — it put us on the map. The white paper was noticed in our region, and it elevated Australia’s place among our neighbours.
And then the Abbott-Turnbull Government wiped all traces of it from government websites, solely because it been produced by a Labor Government.

Labor won’t be taking this petulant and short-sighted approach with Julie Bishop’s foreign policy white paper.

The Government would do well to reflect the priority that Labor has placed on our region. In both government and Opposition, Labor has articulated policies through the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and FutureAsia which contemplate the imperative for a more integrated approach across government to our relationship with the region. We have done this both in terms of the substance and conduct of foreign policy, as well as by recognising the relevance of what is occurring in our region to our domestic policy settings.

Labor made clear, shortly after the white paper’s announcement, that in order to be successful, the foreign policy white paper could not avoid a number of challenging questions including:

  • How should Australia respond, in this period of widespread disruption, as the global centre of gravity shifts and the polarity of the global order come into question?
  • How does Australia continue to balance the development of our economic interests and our strategic and security interests within a rules based international system facing unprecedented discontinuity?
  • In this environment, and in the context of the changed economic order in Asia, what does a contemporary road map for Australia in Asia look like in practice?
  • What changes are needed to multilateral organisations and arrangements to preserve their relevance and appropriately engage emerging powers in the international rules-based order?

Any credible foreign policy white paper must seriously deal with these issues.
There has been much discussion of this white paper as Julie Bishop’s legacy, but it is much more a statement of what more could have been over these last five years.

But instead of using this as an excuse to start again, Labor will take up those parts of the white paper that take our national policy forward and incorporate them into Labor’s foreign policy thinking.

This piece was originally published in The Australian on Thursday, 23 November 2017.